Who Is King Lear?


When we look at how the character of King Lear should be portrayed to me there are two most plausible interpretations. In most renditions, he is shown as an authority of utmost regality driven to utter madness, but there is another interpretation that deserves consideration. It is that of the naively fond and living in a dream world, old man driven to the realization of the anguish and suffering present in his quasi-reality. Martin Spevack, author of The Masks Of King Lear, writes, “Curiously , this Lear, touched in the beginning with madness would move upward toward strength and sanity.” An utter reversal of the common character journey of Lear. He futher writes, “And then the storm comes–and for a moment this Lear would seem to have attained absolute lucidity, to know, for the first time the misery of this world, and share in its suffering.”

O I have ta’en too little care of this. Take physic, pomp; exposed thyself to feel what wretches feel, that thou mayst shake the superflux to them and show the heavens more just.

This the first dose of humanity Lear swallows. He’s slowly coming to a realization of his miserliness as a King, and he expresses his condolences. Not only is he sorry for his past neglect of the poor but also for his unmitigated foolishness as a judge in the love inquisition of his three daughters which should be incomparably noted most akin to madness. From the madness that occupies Lear’s crisis in the storm, until his heart wrenching reunion with Cordelia, the King’s sanity, as time wears on, is clear:

To say Ay and no” to everything that I said! Ay and no too was no good divinity. They told me I was everything; ’tis a lie; I am not ague-proof.

In 4.4 Cordelia laments her father’s condition:

Why, he was met even now as mad as the vexed sea.

And indubitably, the most delusional line of the play:

I am a man more sinned against than sinning.

We can still interpret the majority of his experiences on the heath as his journey to  sobriety yet a rocky road:

No, I will be the pattern of all patience, I will say nothing.

Lear in all its forms never ceases to engender multitudinous ideas and interpretations , and the interpretation of him striving towards sanity deserves much consideration. His ultimate nightmare is too hard; the death of his dearest and Faithful Cordelia;

And my poor fool is hanged.

Lear passes shortly thereafter.


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